Archive for the ‘Personal Stories’ Category

Lotus Love Blog

The Keys to Spiritual Bartending

Posted on: September 21st, 2016 No Comments

by Adriana Shanti

adriana

As it states in the preface, The Yoga Sutras are, “a living scripture to illumine our spiritual path.” They are threads of wisdom to weave throughout your daily life. There is so much valuable information in the Sutras, and I highly recommend taking one Slokah at a time and letting it resonate inside you. My favorite Slokah is Book 1:33 because it applies to everyone everyday. In fact, Patanjali advises that we commit at least this one Sutra to memory.

Book 1 Slokah 33:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.

Patanjali says that there are only four kinds of locks in this world. Suka, duhkha, punya and apunya–happy people, unhappy people, the virtuous and the wicked. The keys to these locks are friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard.

This month marks four wonderful years of working as a receptionist for the front desk at Laughing Lotus. I like to think of myself as a “Spiritual Bartender” more than a receptionist. I greet everyone with a cheerful smile and quickly surmise what key will work to “open” them up.

Patanjali says that the key to opening up the happy is to use the “friendliness” key. Unfortunately, even four thousand years ago, there were people who were not happy at seeing others happy. I greet the happy with excitement! I take great joy in looking at all vacation pictures, and I ask leading questions to find out what made their time away so special. I love hearing about anything and everything that makes you happy. Did you finally clean out that hall closet that has been haunting you forever? GREAT! Please do share! Let’s do a big ol’ high five! I want to be that person you look forward to sharing your life with, my happiness is increased when I know that you are happy. Its a wonderful win-win situation.

Compassion is the key to the unhappy. Patanjali says to be merciful always. “By doing that, you will retain the peace and poise of your mind. Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.” If you can lend a helping hand, do it. For the unhappy, I offer empathy and compassion. I want to be that sympathetic ear that you can confide in and know that it will go no further than our conversation. I take great pride in holding a safe place to confide your troubles. I hold everyone’s secrets and pain with honor; I don’t take that privilege lightly.

For the virtuous, feel delighted! I bask in the virtuous! Virtuous people are filled with wisdom and advice. Instead of feeling envy over their accomplishments, appreciate the virtuous qualities and try to cultivate them in yourself. I have learned so much about life and yoga just sitting around in the lobby of Laughing Lotus and chatting over tea…virtuous people are everywhere, you just have to take the time to listen.

Sometimes the world just gets to be too much and we find ourselves in a “bad way.” We shut down and no amount of kindheartedness can soften our thoughts. When you find someone in a “wicked” way, it is best to treat them with indifference. Don’t let them penetrate your happiness and dim your inner light. I always greet people who appear to be having a bad day with a smile and space. Tomorrow is another day, hopefully whatever woes there are today will be gone tomorrow.

Pantajali says these four keys…Friendliness, Compassion, Delight and Indifference should always be with us. “If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind.”

Adriana teaches Wednesday and Friday Sunrise Flow at 7am and Thursday Soul Sweat at 12pm. Find more information at www.spottedelephantyoga.com!


Mother Pie

Posted on: July 6th, 2016 2 Comments
by Adriana Feliciana

Adriana

*repost*

As a kid I read a book about a teen who was looking for a mother figure because she felt her own mother was lacking in some “mothering departments.” She would find qualities and strengths amongst the women she was around and began to construct the mother she was looking for, she called it her “mother pie.” The idea of a “mother pie” had a profound impact on me.

My mother has always been a kind and loving soul who made sure that my sister and I always had the very best of things, but she was not much of a communicator or a homemaker. I was always searching for a mother who would dispel sage advice to me and make me a comforting meal. So, when I became a mother at age 17, I felt like I had so much to learn. While I couldn’t provide the material items my mother had, I made sure to be the “domestic mom” to my son, which I had been craving for in my own mother. When my son Tonio was going into preschool they had a potluck dinner and I remember strolling in with my homemade apple pie so proudly. What no one knows is that it took three attempts at a pie that day, it just had to be perfect because that was what a good mom did in my teenage way of thinking.

By the time my daughter was born five years later, I was already over the domestic scene and into finding some financial stability. We lived in the Marina, where restaurants were everywhere. I remember my 2-year old daughter, Audrey, telling me one evening “I’m hungry! Call somebody.” That was a shocking truth that perhaps I needed to find some balance.

I had also wanted to be the “cool mom”, the type of mom with the perfect hair and eyeliner, dressed in all black with the sleek black designer handbag. I frowned at the moms in the brightly colored comfy pants and ponytails who always had tissues and cough drops in their big floral canvas “mom bags.” I used to think they were crazy to extend their mothering skills to other kids that were in need. I made great efforts to close myself off from the outside world because it seemed like too much effort to love everyone.

A lot of times, I felt completely overwhelmed because I was so young and for the most part on my own. My mothering advice was sporadic and unpredictable because I was still just a child in so many ways. I had some severe addiction problems, which I needed to address before I could really flourish into being the mother I was knew I could be.

Once I became sober, I took a long hard look at my lifestyle and made dramatic changes. Gone are the days of expensive leather handbags and other expensive luxuries. Today I embrace a life of simplicity and colorful comfy yoga pants. I carry a large canvas bag filled with spare tissues and cough drops for everyone (now vegan cough drops, thanks to some mothering advice from our Beautiful Lotus Mother Jasmine). I have also changed my perspective on mothering.

I am not only the mother of the two I gave birth to, but also to anyone who needs a slice of “mother pie”. The Universe has provided me with many children who need some special mothering. It has been such an honor to be a part of the Laughing Lotus community, I really feel like everyone who enters the door is my family. I love to greet everyone by their names, hearing about their triumphs with inversions and encouraging them when they get discouraged with their setbacks. I especially love mothering the new Yoga School Students, seeing their faces light up with all the possibilities Yoga can provide truly warms my heart every time. I actually tear up with great pride when I attend graduations and come to their first Community Classes.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “It is possible that the next Buddha will not take the form of an individual. The next Buddha may take the form of a community-a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. This may be the most important thing we can do for the survival of the Earth.” Such beautiful words, I am so thankful that I can be part of such a loving community that is Laughing Lotus.

Catch Adriana on Tuesday & Friday mornings for sunrise flow as she subs for Erica all summer loving long.


Mamaste! Bowing to the Divine Mother, Within us and all around us

Posted on: June 29th, 2016 No Comments

by Jasmine Tarkeshi

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As soon as I met my daughter I joined my hands in prayer at my heart and with tears streaming from my eyes I said “Namaste”. Meaning the light in my bows to the light in you. A reflection of myself I had never seen before! I did this ritual all through the first crazy, beautiful, life-changing year of motherhood. Then one day, she said it back! But instead of Namaste she said “Mamaste” with a big goofy toothless grin. I kept correcting her, but nope, it was MAMAste. Although, surrounded by the love of her devoted father, grandma and auntie and community of adoring family, “Mama” was the world she came from. And through her the “ Mama” within me was born! A patience I never knew I had, the most intoxicating Love that cannot be described, protection and fierceness of a tigress, caring and nurturance I never knew myself. This has extended to my relationship with the world.

I recently became active on instagram, vowing to participate in social media with a lot of personal resistance. So many of my Yogic guides kept reminding me of the importance of staying connected to my students and sharing my practice with them even if it was through an iPhone. So I set out to document my yoga practice and share what inspires me, but if you check me out on IG, there are only pictures of my daughter, Indigo! Perhaps it’s because I don’t know how to take pictures of myself, but she IS my Yoga! Through her I feel connected to the universe, Mother Earth and all beings. Through her eyes I see oneness, the miracle in all experience, joy for no reason, complete emotional expression and bravery and courage that inspires. I am tested, challenged, on a daily – moment to moment basis to live my yoga to the fullest, since I am her world from which she learns. And WOW, am I tested! THIS is my Tapas (purifying practice) like I have never known. My Motherhood is messy and imperfect; I lose it, I do things I said I would never do – like have her watch a video while I get work done, order take away a few times a week instead of my vision of making every organic meal in a handstand 🙂 But she has no judgment; she still looks at me and says “ Mamaste” even as I beat myself up. In Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion, this is known as Pusthi Marg or path of the Divine Mother where we look at the world through the eyes of a devoted mother. Like the Buddha said, “Like a caring mother holding and guarding the life of her only child, so with a boundless heart of loving kindness, hold yourself and all beings as your beloved children.”

In Yoga Philosophy and the great Guru Mantra, our first guru is our mother—Guru Brahma our creation/creator is guru. We all have different relationships with our mother or caretaker. We have fought with, disagreed and misunderstood our parents or guardians from childhood on, some which may not yet be resolved to this day. Teachers come to us in many ways. This first teacher was our mother by birth as the Earth is our mother by creation. To appreciate the power of creation is to see all life as valuable, ALL human life, as well also the life force that flows through all living beings.

The love of a mother is unconditional. She knows that through our existence we cause harm to her—yet she continues to nourish and support us with all her heart. Each year thousands of forests are being cut down, oceans, rivers and lakes are polluted and giant holes are mined into Her. But it is not only the Earth herself who is exploited; it is also her human and nonhuman inhabitants.

The Earth itself is referred to as the Mother, Divine Mother or Ma. She is the sustaining and creative force providing food and water for the survival of all the beings that inhabit her. In the west, we endearingly refer to our beautiful blue/green planet as “Mother Earth” as a way to express our interconnectedness with all beings. Our own relationship with the Divine Mother may be very similar to the relationship with our own mother! Sometimes we fight; sometimes we ignore her and definitely do things that we know will upset her! But through both our birth mother and the Divine Mother we are undeniably linked to the source of all life.

In Hindu mysticism, the earth is always referred to as a very patient mother. She has to bear with all our misdeeds. We are all her children. Perhaps there is no greater sorrow for a mother than to see her children quarreling among themselves. In my village, two brothers quarreling or two sisters quarreling will be taken up as a village issue, since this is considered to be something that should never happen; it’s no longer a domestic issue, but a community one. “The word for sibling in Sanskrit is sahodara. Saha, “together,” udara, “womb”: they come from the same womb. They have lived in the same womb. So they should always help each other. Similarly, we all come from the womb of Mother Earth. We are all brothers and sisters.

Just as a human mother is in agony when she sees her children fighting against one another, so mother earth is in agony when she sees nation fighting against nation, race against race. Through the enthusiastic practice of meditation and the allied disciplines, each of us can become instruments of peace and harmony, drawing upon our deepest resources to prevent nation from rising up against nation, race against race, and brother against brother.

Peace is not created by governments and fighting forces. Peace is made by little people like you and me getting to know other people, other countries, other races.– Eknath Easwaran

Our personal relationship with the Divine Mother Earth lives within us in the Muladhara Chakra. Chakras are energy centers within the body that correspond with the elements as well as the endocrine system and physical, emotional and mental systems. “Mula” means root and “adhara” means to support. Located within the perineum at the base of the spine from the tailbone through the legs and feet, it connects us with Mother Earth as well as our own roots, our maternal mother or support when we were children, as well as our ancestors. It is within this most important Chakra that our early childhood experiences are recorded like magnetic tape and influence all we do including our feelings of survival, belonging, and guardedness and whether or not our basic needs were met. When Muladhara is in balance, we feel strong and confident; we can stand up on your own two feet and take care of ourselves and feel connected to the earth and others, grounded and present. We are trusting in others and feel a part of nature, a family, tribe or community. We feel safe in the home of our bodies and create a safe environment to live. We care for and nurture others and ourselves and stand up for others and ourselves. We take care of the planet and see the Divine in a all beings and the sacred in everything. We care as much about our own survival as the survival of others.

This is the philosophy behind most shamanic and indigenous healing. That our own well-being is interconnected with the whole.

When it is not in balance we feel like victims and blame everyone and everything for our misfortunes or are over materialistic, hoard and disrespect others and the planet. When it is blocked or out of balance, we can become needy, have low self-esteem, or have self-destructive behaviors.

Here are a few ways to become aware and honor the Divine Mother, our own, Mamma Earth and the Divine Mother within! Jai MA!

1)Create an ancestral altar: Place pictures of your parents, family and ancestors, artifacts from their countries of origin to connect to your roots and feel the support of this deep connection as well of the pain that may be associated with it. We cannot change our pasts but we can vow not to be lineage barriers of past traumas by healing the wounds of the past through actions and sadhanas (spiritual practices) we can take today.

2)Practice Yoga and care for your physical body through diet and exercise. Cook your own food as much as possible, eating organic food from local farmers markets. Move toward a vegetarian diet, which lessens the suffering of other beings and damage to our mother planet. This self-care and discipline wakes up the Divine Mother within as a doorway to truly care for all beings. Nourish your self with healthy habits and move away from toxic ones. Surround your self with a “tribe” of like-minded but diverse people to create community and healthy family, work environment and relationships based on mutual respect. Look for ways you can use your privilege to be of service to others less privileged due to the color of their skin, sexual orientation or class.

3) Connect to Mother Earth. This does not have to be only through spending time in nature, although, get out and spend time in nature! Get your feet in the dirt and your body in the water and the sunshine, smell the flowers and taste the fruits, meditate on the moon and stars. At the same time, Our Urban/ Concrete jungle is just as sacred along with beings that inhabit it. Have plants and animals in your home. Walk the city streets to connect with the world around you, yes, the muddy, mucky mud and try to see the beauty and divinity that surrounds you within it. Meet your brothers and sisters from different cultural backgrounds; go to cultural events with music, dance and food celebrating diversity. Do selfless service and volunteer. Oneness does NOT mean we are the same in every way, the true nature of oneness to celebrate the uniqueness in every being by acknowledging equality and non-duality and honoring the sacred within every being.

With my hands at my heart in prayer, “Mamaste”!

This beautiful Mantra honors the Divine Mother in all her forms and sends me into an ecstatic state!

Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Matri Rupena Sansthita
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah
(repeat after each line)

Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Buddhi Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Shakti Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Nidra Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Chaiya Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Daya Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Kanti Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Bhranti Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Shantih Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Tushti Rupena Sansthita
Ya Devi Sarva Bhutesu, Lakshmi Rupena Sansthita
Namastasyai Namastasyai Namastasyai Namo Namah

Translation:
Salutations to the Goddess who resides in all beings in the form of:
{wisdom, light, abundance etc}
To that constant, eternal Presence, I gratefully offer myself again and again.
The feminine energy or nature resides in all beings (RupenaSansthita). As the flow of life, she is expressed in us as wisdom (Buddhi), sleep (Nidra), the shadow (Chaiya), misunderstanding (Bhranti), peace (Shantih), contentment (Tushti), abundance (Lakshmi), Matri (Mother), Daya (Compassion, Kanti (Radiance) and Shakti (primal Source Energy).

resources : Doug Whitiker, Eknath Eashwaran, Amma’s Mantras

#Mamaste #DivineMother #JaiMa #MuladharaChakra #Yoga #GuruBrahma #LoveIsMyReligion #LaughingLotusSF #JasmineTarkeshi

Jasmine Tarkeshi is Co-Founder of Laughing Lotus Yoga Centers in NYC and SF. She is a humble student of the ancient and transformative teachings of Yoga and has been sharing the passion for the practices for 20 years. She comes from and bows to her mystical heritage of Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Yogic backgrounds that all merge into her love for the performing arts and healing traditions of the world. She is a dedicated activist through her life and practice and beloved foundation Love Saves the Day and teaches nationally, internationally and daily at her home studio at Laughing Lotus Yoga Center in San Francisco with the belief in everyones ability to awaken and heal to be true agents for change as intstruments of Love.


The Source

Posted on: June 22nd, 2016 No Comments

by Genevieve McClendon

HEART-26

The Source
The lovely melody of a flute
is found neither in the instrument
nor in the player’s fingers.
You might say it comes from the composer’s heart,
but if you opened his heart
you would find no melody.
Where, then, is the source?
It is beyond—in the supreme cosmic Energy
which the ego will never know.
Only if you act from your heart
will you know life’s divine power.
-Amma

When we are born our heart is one of the first organs to develop along with the spinal cord, its beat setting the tone of our lives. We are then born into the world and given the constant rhythm of breath, synchronizing all the sounds and tones of life force. Nada yoga is the union through sound, inner transformation through sound and deeper listening. We honor them as the source and vibration of Om (also know as AUM, broken up into three letters) and anahata, the sound that is always in you, the vibration within the sound, the sound within the sound. It is the vibration within each cell of our being. Nada yoga is to feel the sound of God within us.

This past week I went to visit Amma, the “Hugging Saint” at her ashram in San Ramon. Being there was like being bathed in a celebration and party of blessed sounds and an intoxicating vibration of omnipresent love. Whenever first entering Amma’s ashram there is a restoring of harmony within my inner sounds as I receive all vibrations and sounds of the temple. It takes moments to synchronize myself with her loving presence and the sounds of chanting, repeating mantras, and the vibrations of all the people. There is a change in the atmosphere when a true Guru is present. The vibrating sound of the crown chakra and OM is everywhere. Communing with the Guru I am left feeling focused and relaxed. A feeling of hOMe.

As I was sitting in my seat waiting for my turn to receive a divine Amma hug I was mesmerized by her japa, or repetition in hugging one being after another. To me it was as if each hug was a mantra on a mala bead. And these aren’t just hugs, she snuggles you into arms with all her divine love and it’s as if a thunderbolt of love moves through your body. This alters your vibrational field and awareness. I could feel my heart’s capacity expand and my energy cleansed. Being in her energetic vibrational field I could feel all the cells in my body shift by the immense love she was radiating. Helping tune every one of us back into who we really are. Showering everyone in the purest vibrations of love. Restoring our hearts divine rhythm and tone. Shedding pain and suffering.

Patanjali states, “vibration is still there in the mind in an unmanifested condition. Scientifically, we can say that when manifested objects are reduced to their unmanifested condition, they go back to the atomic vibration. Nobody can stop that atomic vibration.” The omnipresent vibration of love is never changing – it’s always constant. Whether it’s through chanting mantras, thinking good thoughts, giving silent empathy, prayer, singing your heart out, dancing, being in nature, visiting a Guru, laughing with friends, we are given the opportunity to vibrate with our truest self, the sounds of divine love. The rhythm of our heart, the tide of our breath, the sound of divinity that vibrates inside and outside of us are reflections to the ever present Om and love in the universe. Nada yoga transforms our inner and outer sounds into love, vibrating our truest self. Sending waves and sounds of love from me to you through this blog. Om Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

“Your heart is the real temple. It is there you must install god, good thoughts are the flowers, good actions the worship, good words the hymns, love, the divine offering.”
-Amma

Genevieve is committed to serving and helping others come into their best self. She is a compassionate teacher that invites all her students to live their truth and celebrate who they are as they are. She is a passionate Reiki Master/Teacher. Genevieve also teaches Restorative yoga with Reiki at Laughing Lotus on Friday from 6:45-8:00pm and Sunday from 6:15-7:30. To learn more, please visit her website at www.InLightandSoul.com


In between all these sounds I hear….

Posted on: June 1st, 2016 No Comments

by Brima Jah

Brima Jah

I sit down to write this blog.

A fly with big, loud wings collides into my left hear. People yelling and Muni buses jetting down the street downstairs from my apartment echo into my bedroom. A wall in my bedroom shakes to the beat of the latest Drake album that my neighbor blasts on repeat.

In between all of these sounds I hear my breath and quick glimpses of silence.

Listening to all of these different sounds and the accompanying silence in between them are part of the experience of nada yoga. The Sanskrit word “nada” means sound and is related to another Sanskrit term “nadi,” which means stream or flow. “Nada yoga” is therefore a union through sound or the flow of sound. Sounds of all different forms including music and our voices are part of nada yoga.

These sounds can be placed in two categories:

there are “ahata” sounds that are created by striking objects together such as drums, clapping hands, or maybe less obvious, wind blowing through trees and air colliding with our vocal chords when we speak or sing; and,

there are “anahata,” or inner sounds that are created without striking objects together and are heard from within.

It’s been said that our mind can become entrained or during meditation become absorbed in inner sounds, to the extent that we no longer listen to it but rather become one with it. However, the idea getting “absorbed” in inner sounds can take years and may seem inaccessible.

Still, research studies done at the Bihar School of Yoga have demonstrated that we do have access to connecting, or perhaps to RE-CONNECTING, with our inner sounds. This reconnection can happen through chanting mantra and participating in kirtan that can unite our breath, body and mind.

In essence, chanting mantra and kirtan helps us use of our voice to become a medium for communicating both with others and with our selves. There is rarely any instance in which we use our voice without feeling it vibrate in our body, repeat in our mind, or move us in some way emotionally.

As newborns, we create the same sounds. Within the first few months of life, the sounds we create are universal across all races, ethnicities, culture or nationality. Acquiring language and speech as children, unfortunately, starts to create demands on us that sacrifice our vocal freedom and spontaneity.

Exploring our voices, whether in chanting mantra, kirtan or by speaking, invites us to return to a sense of freedom and spontaneity that is more universal. This exploration is grounded in our body. As our voice resonates, we learn what we sound like alone and in community as one.

While we may chant mantra or sing when we are happy, singing can also support our coping with sadness, pain, and suffering. Chanting mantra and kirtan, as practices of nada yoga, give us each a means for freedom of expression when we feel happy, sad, or a mix of both. As in the words of Hazrat Inayat Khan, “the shortest way to attain to spiritual heights is by singing.”


Tree Pose

Posted on: May 25th, 2016 1 Comment
by Ella Ben-Zvi

ella

My eyes were burning with unbearable pain, it felt like they were going to pop out of their holes! They were sore and itchy and my head was pounding to the point I could barely think. After my lasik surgery, the doctor instructed me to stay in a dark room, cover my eyes with patches and every 4 hours put eye drops that made my face twitch. For a full week I didn’t see anything and couldn’t do anything – it was torture!

On the morning of the seventh day I removed the patches, letting my eyes slowly readjust to the light. I walked outside for the first time after a week and couldn’t believe what I found there – a Rosewood tree, standing in front of my house, high and proud, growing into the sky, with its branches and leaves swinging in the wind, creating endless shades of green as they drop shadow and reveal the light interchangeably. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life!

I realized that I had walked by this tree every day for the past five years and not once noticed its beauty! On that morning, with my new set of eyes, I could suddenly see it. I stood there, staring at the tree, mesmerized by the play of light stroking the leaves as they throw shadows on one another, and simply unable to take my eyes off it. It was astounding! How come I never noticed it before? Despite the harsh pain, I was so happy I did the surgery that allowed me to see all these details! A cheerful feeling filled my heart, as I woke up from all the suffering into this bliss.

The morning after, as I left my house and looked up at the tree again, I noticed that it was still pretty, but not as stunning as yesterday. I couldn’t really understand why – my eyesight was a perfect 20/20 now, why couldn’t I see the tree like yesterday? Was the sunlight different? Was I different? A wave of disappointment washed over my heart. The days passed, I woke up each morning, left the house, walked by the tree and went to work, no longer paying attention to the leaves and their shapes, but the image of the miraculous tree had remained vivid in my mind.

A few years later, when I heard the term Samadhi for the first time, I knew that was it! Samadhi, simply translated to bliss, is the last step in the path of eight limbs in the Yoga sutras of Patanjali. Samadhi is a meditative state of total absorption, where awareness is completely present in the moment. In his book Freedom, Love, and Action, Jiddu Krishnamurti said that if you never meditated in your life “You are like the blind man in a world of bright colors”. I know I was blind before, but I also didn’t know how to see again…

The last three limbs of the Yoga Sutras are the three stages of meditation.The first one is Dharana – concentration or single-minded focus – the stage in which one trains the mind to be centered on one thing. The second step is Dhyana – the state of meditation – and the third one is Samadhi – the bliss. I started in the end, in Samadhi, but because I didn’t walk the entire path to get there, I didn’t know how to reach it again.

So I started practicing Dharana and discovered that there are thousands of techniques to train your brain, from gazing at one object to gazing at your third eye, from using visualization to gesturing mudras, from repeating mantras to looking at yantras, so I chose one and started practicing daily. And let me tell you, it is so hard! My thoughts keep wandering all over, the minutes feel like hours, my eyes blink, the seat is uncomfortable and my shoulders hurt. I feel restless and agitated and just can’t wait for it to be over! Sometimes it really feels like torture, just like recovering from lasik… Without realizing it, I had been practicing intensive meditation in a dark room for a whole week while my eyes were healing, so I know it is worth it, because sometimes, in rare mornings, it just flows. I get into the zone where time loses its meaning and only the now exists. Everything is quiet in my mind and joy spreads from my heart to every part of my body. And when the gong rings and I open my eyes, everything is bright and beautiful, a smile is lifted up from the corner of my lips, I take a big breath in and start my day with a blissful taste of Samadhi.

The stage that takes us from Dharana to Samadhi is the hardest to explain, like a riddle in the middle, Dhyana is left unsolved. Almost like describing what love is or how it feels to swim in the ocean, it is really difficult to illustrate what meditation is. So many words had been written about meditation, but nothing can really depict it. Like love, meditation is something that needs to be personally experienced, and like love, we tend to see it as serious and complex. But, as Krishnamurti writes: “Meditation is really very simple. We complicate it. We weave a web of ideas around it, what it is and what it is not. But it is none of these things. Because it is so very simple, it escapes us”. Simple, but not easy….

The practice of Dharana is to focus the mind on one point and concentrate on one thought at a time. This practice has an important side effect – it creates a space between one thought and the next, and with time, this gap grows wider and longer. This space which we can’t see is Dhyana. Krishnamurti defines it as the moment “When the heart enters into the mind”. In other words, Meditation is the time when there is enough space between the thoughts for the heart to enter. “When the thought is silent there is emptiness… Empty – and therefore utterly open”.

Meditation is clearing space, emptying out, opening up. This emptiness is the state of Dhyana that allows us to experience Samadhi. I now understand that it wasn’t the eye surgery that sharpened my vision and enabled me to see – it was the time spent in the darkness that emptied my mind. One of my teachers used to say that instead of looking for our place in the world, we should try to make more space for the world inside ourselves. After seven days in a dark room, I had enough space for one tree to manifest in its full glory, and with practice I hope to create enough space for the whole world.

Ella is grateful to share her love to the magical power of yoga. In her classes she encourages to listen to the wisdom of the body, and let the intuition guide the way. Join her to Lotus Basics on Monday and Wednesday at 8:30pm, and Thursday at 10:45am. Ella also teaches Lotus Yin on Wednesday at 4pm, and live music flow aka Friday Night Live!


This Too, This Too, This Too

Posted on: May 18th, 2016 1 Comment

by Laura

adrha

Ten thoughts on my current meditation practice in honor of Meditation Month at Laughing Lotus!

One:

This morning I cleared out a space in my storage closet by the water heater, pulled my bolster in, sat down, and closed my eyes.

Two:

Yesterday, I didn’t meditate.

Three:

I’m in week 4 of an 8-week mindfulness meditation class. The first week when we were assigned a body scan meditation as homework, much to my surprise, I cried, became despondent, and refused to do it. Such a wild swirl of emotion!

Four:

I read that meditation can decrease inflammation at a cellular level and increase the gray matter of our brains. I’m interested in the cooling and calming of my cells. I’m interested in the gray matter of my brain. And that’s just for starters.

Five:

I’m also re-reading my very dog-eared copy of Jack Kornfield’s beautiful and practical guide to meditation, “A Path With Heart.” If you are interested in meditation, I highly recommend it. He writes this of meditation practice: “each of us experiences whatever arises again and again as we let go, saying ah this too. That simple phrase: this too, this too, this too.”

Six:

I have a meditation app on my phone that is mostly just a timer with an alarm that sounds like a meditation bowl. I like it, though, because it has no other function than to sit beside me while I meditate. It will remind me that I have a “meditation streak” of zero days from time to time. It also records how many hours I’ve meditated while using it as my timer. I have meditated for 9 hours and 40 minutes since I downloaded it, which strikes me as funny: it seems like a lot and like nothing at all.

Of course, the beautiful and essential thing about meditation is that it isn’t quantifiable. It is stillness and fire and quiet and explosions and breath and all of the invisible work inside of our cells. It is ferociously qualitative, giving a very specific texture to our relationship with the present moment.

Seven:

If I’ve learned anything about meditation recently it’s that sometimes when you sit with yourself unpleasant things arise. That is where the phrase, “This too…” comes in. Because the unpleasant passes just as the pleasant does. When I really, really believe that truth then the result of meditation is a certain softness that arises where otherwise I would have the hardest edges. Sometimes the result of meditation is that I feel no distinction between the air and my skin.

I find myself with that simple phrase, this too, or some version, as an echo in my mind these last few days. This echo encourages me to stand just a bit longer in front of a piece of art and really look at it. It lets me bike against the wind with the fog rolling in and not struggle against the cold and the frustration. It inspires me to walk through my neighborhood at dusk with no destination in mind. This too, this too, this too, my body remembers even when I don’t consciously say the words. There is no end result I’m aiming for; it’s simply a way to be.

Eight:

One of my favorite meditations recently was accompanied by a mudra (a symbolic and meditative gesture of the hands). It is called the Pushan Mudra. In your right hand you connect the thumb, pointer finger, and middle finger. In your left hand you connect the thumb, middle finger, and ring finger. While sitting in a cross legged position, allow the backs of your hands to rest on the tops of your legs and keep this connection of the fingertips. While you inhale, imagine that your right hand is drawing in everything you need. While you exhale, imagine that your left hand is releasing everything that you don’t need. Perhaps even try naming what those things are with one or two words. Name what you want to cultivate and name what you want to release.

I think it is important to really think about what some of this means…we talk a lot about letting go but how can we really do that? I believe it is something we can do with the intention, gentleness, and discipline of a meditation practice.

Nine:

Someone I love wrote this loving-kindness meditation inside a card for me:

May I be grounded in love.

May I feel the love love and support that surrounds me.

May I relinquish fear and worry and find places of rest and comfort.

May I know gratitude, even in the midst of challenges.

May I find that still center of equanimity, acceptance, and freedom from suffering.

May I and all beings be free from suffering.

May I and all beings experience wholeness and healing.

She wrote, This meditation helps enlarge one’s world.

 Meditation is, of course, impossible to summarize neatly or succinctly. Our meditation practices are unique to each of us: singular, strange, beautiful, difficult, ongoing. But I do like that definition: that it can help us enlarge our world. We get to return, every day, to a practice that is never the same. We get to return to a self, every day, that is never the same. We get to pause, even for just a few moments, to take note.

Ten:

The day before yesterday, I sat down, set my timer, and closed my eyes. Immediately, I thought about who I had to email, some responses were time sensitive, others not. I thought about what I had to do later, what groceries were in the refrigerator and what I could cook with them. I thought about meditation and about how I was thinking too much, but at least I was doing it. I thought about how thoughts are supposed to be OK and I just needed to stop worrying about it, and I thought about how ridiculous this particular train of thought was currently getting. I thought about summer and the month of June. I thought about coffee, the next basketball game, my novel. I wondered how long I’d been meditating. Time felt very slow, very sweet, and I suddenly realized I shouldn’t try to rush it, or wonder about how much of it had just gone by. And so I just sat there in my storage closet, very still, very quiet, very present…for at least one whole and uninterrupted moment.

Laura grew up in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and has lived in San Francisco for the past 14 years. When she isn’t practicing and teaching yoga, she is hard at work on a novel. Come practice with her at the Lotus on Tuesday (10:45am Basics), Wednesday (7am Sunrise Flow), or Friday (9am Basics)! More yoga info and inspiration can be found at Yoga with Laura on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/futurecircayoga/).


Meditation is the Medication

Posted on: May 11th, 2016 No Comments

by Astrud Castilloastrud meditation green heart

It is a new moon tonight and there is a sense of emptiness in the sky. I have longed for this sense of emptiness to be so in my head. I chased all sorts of behaviors to quiet the chatter in my overactive mind.

This overactive mind, which feels like a dangerous neighborhood at times, is what brought me to my knees and lead to my spiritual practice over 20 years ago.
My mother had been urging me to meditate long before I fell to my knees but couldn’t hear it coming from her. As they say when the student is ready the teacher appears.

I was in a big transition, ending a relationship, moving, confused, uncertain of my work and completely lost. At that time I was introduced to a wonderful women named Nancy, who was in her 70’s at the time but looked like she was in her 50’s. She had quite a story and had been a big time fashion model in NYC in the 50’s – a wild child of sorts. She was trying to rebuild her life after her long stint of modeling and addiction and in her 40’s had found Meditation. Nancy invited me up to Dai Bosatsu Zendo, a Zen Monastery located in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York.

It was a life changing experience for me.

I was completely ready to embrace where I was, I was ready to sit with myself and not run away. I was so gently reminded – THE ONLY WAY OUT IS THROUGH. In stillness, I would continuously struggle with berating myself with violent thoughts that followed with brutal actions towards myself. This was the farthest behavior from the Yoga practice of AHIMSA, non-violence. Sitting for me was uncomfortable to say the least more along the lines of terrifying. I believed the hype in my head and I thought I WAS the hype in my head. As I began to practice sitting regularly I started to recognize the little spaces between my thoughts and I could see and feel the light of love not fear and self-hatred. I started to watch my thoughts and recognize the mind was simply doing what it does best, entertaining me! I began witnessing and not participating in my thoughts.

THAT was REVOLUTIONARY for me!

Like Chogyam Trungpa said, “Meditation is one insult after the other.” I completely understood this. If it wasn’t “you’re not good enough,” then it was “you don’t have time for this.” It was a constant roll of negative mantras and insults. As a result of discipline, which for me translates into commitment, I started to develop a spine by sitting up tall and taking my seat. I became less dependent on outside forces, I became more responsible for my action, I became much more compassionate towards myself and as a result towards others and I developed and embodied the practice of Ahimsa. I became aware of an inner strength and the ability to comprehend what was real and what was not.

Meditation has been one of the most precious and transformative gifts of my life and is what lead me to Yoga. My meditation after many years is not a formal sit today. Communing with nature and music have replaced a formal sit. These practices have allowed for me to be completely absorbed and engaged with what is right in front of me. I shower in the morning, have some tea and engage for 20-30 min of chanting. After chanting, I sit and embody the power of sound and vibration and how it wakes me up on a deep cellular level. I engage with stillness. Every Monday (Moonday) I commune with nature. I take a very intentional walk and or adventure and let myself reap the healing effects, such as peace of mind, connecting with my breath and with that which breaths me.

Sri Desikachar, a beautiful man I had the honor of studying with in India over several years and the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, talks about linking the mind to something good-subha (auspicious) and how this is a necessary aspect of meditation. He says: “What is subha, what is auspicious, is something that only a caring guide can indicate, one who knows you well enough to choose.” I am eternally grateful to Swami Satchidananda for this reminder, “Don’t think that only when you close your eyes, you are meditating. Anything that you do with total attention IS meditation.”

“All those who love Nature she loves in return, and will richly reward, not perhaps with the good things, as they are commonly called, but with the best things, of this world- not with money and titles, horses and carriages, but with bright and happy thoughts, contentment and peace of mind.” – John Lubbock

“The object of Indian music is the training of the mind and soul, for music is the best way of concentration. When you tell a person to concentrate on a certain object, the very act of trying to concentrate makes his mind more disturbed. But music, which attracts the soul, keeps the mind concentrated. Besides, the beauty of music, there is that tenderness which brings life to the heart.” – Hazrat Inayat Khan, the great Sufi master and musician.

A simple, profound & gentle instruction by Jack Kornfield goes like this:
To awaken, sit calmly, letting each breath clear your mind and open your heart.

Hari Om….

http://yogawithastrud.com/ For info on India retreat in October 2016
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Meditation: compassion towards Self

Posted on: May 4th, 2016 No Comments
by Yurina Kim

Yurina

What do you do when someone tells you your opinion is wrong? That your feelings and emotions aren’t warranted. That you should change the way you think. A common reaction would be resentment toward the that person and sadly in some ways, thoughts of dissatisfaction toward yourself.

For so many years I would hear the word “meditate” and draw back from it because of people telling me I should try it to help me with my mental and emotional issues. That it would change my life. Now, this doesn’t sound so bad right? The reason why I cringed at the idea was because I already had thoughts of dissatisfaction toward myself and was defensive at the thought of someone telling me ways to “fix” myself. The last thing I wanted to do at the time was listen to my own thoughts in absolute quiet! I needed distractions, I needed solutions, I needed to actively seek ways to help my situation change with more immediate results.

After many years of seeking my path of happiness to no avail, I finally caved and tried meditating. I took baby steps. First, it was by going to yoga classes and sitting quietly for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each practice. I remember one day we started the class with Dharmachakra Mudra with our eyes closed. I saw vivid colors circling through my fingers and the energy around me soft and with purpose, like I was meant to sit in that room in that exact moment. I felt like I was grounded but floating at the same time. My internal and external was in harmony. My energy was balanced. At that moment I thought, well if this is what meditation feels like, this is great! Well, that moment was exactly that – a moment that came and went.

Meditating is the hardest thing I ever had to discipline myself to do. Meditation takes incredible COURAGE. Honesty. Focus. Compassion toward Self. This seemingly innocent practice challenged me to unearth the layers of imperfections and insecurities I was constantly pushing further and deeper inside to hide that part of me from the world. I had to start listening to my own voice inside. The child-like innocence, the bruised heart that came from years of beating myself up over not being better than I was. Warm compassion would flood through me for that imperfect person I was trying to escape. I started loving that person because my unique journey, just like the unique journey that all of you have, made me the person I am today and in this moment I accept me for me. Those so-called imperfections create depth to who I am and meditation helped me learn to embrace all parts of myself. I can finally learn how to let go of the expectations I put on myself. I can let go of what I now realize as aggression toward myself. That person who was telling me I was wrong and needed to change? Ultimately, that ended up being me, the very person who I was resentful toward in the beginning.

Rather than “fixing” yourself by trying to make yourself a supposedly better person, meditation helps you become friends with yourself. To accept the imperfections which create YOU. Meditation allows acceptance versus change. Letting go versus force. Change is a byproduct. Meditate so you can navigate your current self through the constant flux that is the universe we live in.

Just like there’s no right or wrong way to think or feel, there’s no right or wrong way to meditate. We all have our own poisons and our own path we need to find and follow, which is why it’s important to practice meditation regularly to figure out what YOUR path is. With that said, guidance is wonderful.

Here are a few basic things I learned in my own routine to prepare myself for meditation:
● Morning distractions? Push those aside! How many of you check your phone right after you wake up, before your feet even touch the ground? Keep that phone outside of the bedroom.
I wake up, take a deep breath of air, say thank you to whoever I feel grateful toward that morning, feed my dog, oil-pull with sesame oil, brush my teeth, drink warm lemon water, eat breakfast, read a few pages of something yoga-related in the morning to exercise my mind, walk my dog, then I open my laptop and start my work day.
Trust me when I say, my first instinct in the mornings is still to check my phone and sometimes I slip. And on those days that I slip, I do feel off in the morning but will close my eyes briefly, take a deep breathe, and let it go.
● Mantra with mala. I switch between my rosary my mother gave me when I was younger, and a mala bead necklace. They both speak to me so I use both of them! I recite a morning mantra that I need during the day. Sometimes it’s a simple “So Ham”, which translates to “I am that, that I am”.
● I love mudras. Usually I use Gyan mudra on my left hand with my beads in my right hand. I also love Dhyani Mudra because of the bowl your hand creates which represents receptivity in the purest form to whatever path lies before you in that moment. Knowing the meaning of a mudra and using the physical act during meditation helps to create more space in the mind for clearer, non-cluttered focus.

All you need is the basic energy of life that already flows in you to experience moments of enlightenment. Enlightenment itself can be a loaded, intimidating word because some people strive for this fantasy-like place that you stay in forever once you reach it. This defeats the goal of release, of letting go. So it can be a simple “a-ha” moment or a feeling of complete and utter satisfaction. That passing moment of seeing colors coursing through my hands that I mentioned earlier? That energy was always there since the day I was born through all the ups and downs, is still inside of me now, and will still be there as I survive through what life throws at me next. These little moments of enlightenment come and go but they help you remember that the energy that creates those moments channels through you with every breath you take. Sometimes I find myself in these periods of total surrender to the universe when I’m not in a seated meditative position because the meditative tools I’ve cultivated stay with me. One example is when I’m scuba diving, particularly muck-diving. From the outside, you would find me staring at one square meter distance in the sand for a good hour. But from my eyes, I see the symbiotic relationship of a gobi fish and shrimp, the spots of a hiding stingray, the head of an eel poking out from a nearby rock, a baby octopus changing colors. Ignoring the big school of fish everyone is trying to photograph because I’m focused on the teeny tiny frog fish barely perceptible to the eye, slowly making its way across the sand. All this color and beauty made me become one with the vast ocean surrounding every part of me, and I felt total freedom. These are the moments we live for and to feel. Freedom that comes from being honest in your truth, in the space you occupy, in your present moment with who you are, just as you are.

When it comes to finding this joy, we all have the lotus flower inside that’s always ready to bloom, to show its existence while pushing through the mud. This mud full of of insecurities, worries, fears, doubt. This beauty, wonder, and mystery that is life, is present in every ordinary thing we do. Every breath, every step, every time we blink our eyes and realize we’ve been staring right past the very thing right under our nose that makes us smile, in an attempt get a better view of whatever it is that everyone else is looking at.

From the outside, someone sees you staring at nothingness, not really doing much of anything. But inside, there is so much more than what meets the naked eye. Meditation allows you dive deep, look within, and find freedom to love who you are and where you are right now.

Yurina Kim is our Marketing and Community Relations extraordinaire.


How to Befriend your Breath

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 No Comments

by Enrique Vallejo

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I once had an asthma attack as a kid. I was at my grandparents’ house after finishing a day at kindergarten class and my grandma noticed me breathing strangely, gasping for breath as I sat in her living room watching television. Alarmed, she called my mom and off I went to the hospital where I stayed for a few nights. I never had another attack after that, but my lung capacity henceforth has always left a lot to be desired. After every cross country meet in high school, I would cross the finish line doubled over, short of breath. This was far beyond what my teammates experienced. In my mid twenties, I had to receive medication for a serious illness that restricted my lung capacity even further. For these reasons, my breath was always something I struggled against as a child and young adult, and my nervous, fearful temperament reflected this fact.

All of this began to change when I began practicing yoga. I discovered, to my amazement, that I could actually befriend and work with my breath. The life force coursing through me didn’t have to be my enemy. I could slow down, take up space, and not have to go through life as if I was being chased by a giant grizzly bear! I noticed my behavior change as well. I became more extroverted, calm, assertive and adventurous as my practice grew.

The benefits of mindful breathing are manifold. Here are just a few:

Reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body

Shifts body from autonomic nervous system agitated “fight or flight” reactions and activates the parasympathetic nervous system of “rest and digest” response, returning the body to homeostasis

Positively shifts emotional states

Lowers/stabilizes blood pressure

Relaxes the muscles

As many in the community know, the past month has been rather tumultuous to say the least. The only thing any of us can do is take life one day at a time and keep breathing through it all. No matter what happens, just keep breathing. What other option is there, really? We can try with all our might to influence the world around us, but we can not control most externalities. All we can even attempt to control is ourselves. Pranayama is a Sanskrit term defined by many as “control of the breath.” By starting at the most gross, visceral level and guiding the breath, we can begin to direct the mind as well. There is no more valuable resource than this. I often tell my students that I don’t care what the pose looks like, I’m far more concerned with the quality of their breathing.

The most common breath practice in yoga is something called ujjayi pranayama – victorious breath. It is aptly named because it is a powerful tool for helping the yogi work towards self-mastery while releasing misplaced desires to manage what is beyond one’s reach. This is, of course, the most meaningful victory of all.

Try this simple exercise to experience ujjayi pranayama for yourself:

Find a comfortable seat in which you feel both relaxed and alert. Sit up tall and let your shoulders release away from your ears. Bring both hands to your stomach and feel your hands move outwards on an inhale and inwards on an exhale. Keep your mouth open for now. The idea is to replace our normal shallow breathing that occurs mostly in the chest with slow, even deep belly breathing. Place one of your palms directly in front of your face and on your next exhale breath as though you’re trying to fog up a pair of glasses. This will produce an audible, rather strange sound not unlike Darth Vader from Star Wars. (When Madonna tried teaching this to Rosie O’Donnell back in the nineties, the comedienne exclaimed “Ohhhhh my God, that sounds like Satan making capuccino!!!!!”) Keep that sound and position of your throat going for the inhale. Breath in and out like that a few more times.

Final step: keep everything the same but close your mouth and breathe only through your nose. You’ll still be making a strange, audible sound, but it won’t be quite as loud. Once that feels comfortable, you can begin to slow down your breath and intentionally equalize the length of the inhale, the exhale, and even the spaces in between. It might feel laborious at first, but you’ll get it n no time if you keep practicing.

Be grateful for every breath, it means you’re still alive.

Namaste

Enrique draws from a background in dance and theatre and seeks to challenge and inspire his students with enthusiasm, humor and kindness. He believes that yoga is a fantastic tool for dissolving limitations and uncovering the brave, wise, compassionate warrior within.